Hospitals create a significant amount of biowaste. Anytime you get a shot, have labwork done, or are on the receiving end of surgery, the process leaves behind dangerous traces that could pose significant health risks to the next person to enter that room.
They also use dangerous chemicals and are constantly exposed to dangerous diseases and germs.
Industrial hygiene professionals perform risk assessments specific to hospital settings. This involves the handling and disposal of biowaste, as referenced above, but it can also be simpler. For example, ergonomic initiatives may fall within the purview of an industrial hygienist because they are implemented to reduce risk.
It’s a difficult job and certainly not one well suited for the squeamish. If you think you have what it takes to have a career in industrial hygiene, read on to learn more.
Industrial hygienists generally have at least a bachelor’s degree in industrial hygiene. Many people will also go on to get a Master’s degree in industrial hygiene, or a related field, like chemistry, physics, engineering, etc.
Keep in mind that industrial hygienists need to understand how chemicals interact, and how said interactions will impact humans who are exposed to them. It’s highly technical work that usually necessitates significant school learning.
Once you have obtained the necessary academic experience, you will naturally want to begin looking for work. However, to become certified, you will first need related experience. In most states, this means logging one year in an industrial hygiene-related job before you are eligible to take the ABIH CIH certification exam.
While the road to completing all of your training is long and difficult, industrial hygienists tend to be well-compensated. They can often make more than six figures, which is a good bit higher than the national average.
Working in the Healthcare Setting
Above, we have described the process of becoming an industrial hygienist. But what do these professionals actually do once they have entered the healthcare setting? Below, we take a look at what your responsibilities as an industrial hygienist working in healthcare might look like.
Industrial hygienists assess workplace environmental hazards with the purpose of identifying biological, physical, or chemical hazards. In the hospital setting, this could involve evaluating the risk of exposure to diseases, dangerous chemicals, radiation, and even high levels of noise.
You will sometimes hear people joke about how hospitals are a good place to go if you want to get sick. The premise of this joke is essentially that there are so many biological risk factors at hospitals that they are often less safe than your home.
There is, unfortunately, a degree of truth to this. Because hospitals are a hub for illness and disease, they do tend to have a high volume of contagions. You should, of course, still seek care when you feel that you need it. And every time you have a safe, healing experience at the hospital, you can attribute it at least partially to the good work of an industrial hygienist.
When an individual or area has been exposed to a contaminant, it’s the industrial hygienists’ job to evaluate the level and concentration of that exposure. Once they have assessed the situation, they quantify it, and provide their recommendations and risk mediation response.
Not all unhealthy pathogen interactions will require intervention. However, without the expertise of an industrial hygienist, it is too possible for outbreaks to result. That’s why industrial hygienists also perform….
Control measures can vary substantially depending on the situation. In certain cases, it may be architectural. For example, changing the ventilation system. Walling in rooms with certain types of biohazards, and implementing sterilization procedures.
In other cases, it could be a matter of recommending PPE, modifying work processes, or simply organizing regular employee training. It is often the industrial hygienist who trains healthcare employees on the potential hazards of their jobs.
Maintaining regulatory standards
Naturally, industrial hygienists aren’t making their recommendations off the top of their heads. Their ultimate job is to align hospital protocol and processes with existing regulatory standards. This process naturally hinges on maintaining a very firm grasp both on what those standards are, and on how the hospital protocol compares to them.
Most hospitals have an independent understanding of what these standards are and how to follow them. The hygienist isn’t starting from the ground up, but rather identifying failures and inconsistencies that hospital professionals may not have previously recognized.
A career with endless options
Industrial hygienist careers are not limited only to healthcare. They also work on construction sites to manage how dangerous materials are handled, and to make sure that the work process is optimally conducive to employee safety.
They work in production facilities to monitor and enforce regulatory compliance. They assist in the manufacturing, transportation, and storage of pharmaceuticals by ensuring that stringent guidelines are understood and enforced.
In other words, they work behind the scenes in almost every industry, with the exclusive purpose of maximizing employee and consumer safety. It’s a high-pressure job and one of great importance. However, for the right people, it’s a rewarding way to make a difference in the world.